Former national hockey player Keevan Raj shares his memories of the Olympics with Zuhaila Sedek
IT was spring in the year 2000 when former national hockey player Keevan Raj arrived in Sydney, Australia for the Olympics.
That may have been 12 years ago but the memory remains very clear in his mind. It still is his most cherished moment as a sportsman. He was only 21 then.
MEMORY OF A LIFETIME
It was not easy to qualify for the Olympics. But the national hockey team made it that year. Keevan and 15 team mates, including Mirnawan Nawawi, represented the nation to compete against the world’s best hockey players.
“It was very nerve-wracking, but I felt excited and blessed at the same time. As a sportsman, there is no higher plateau than the Olympics,” he says.
To prepare for the most important game of their lives, the players trained for six straight months, practising eight hours a day, five days a week. “It was very tough. In fact, it was the toughest training I had gone through. But it was necessary as all the other teams were training hard too,” says Keevan.
The players also watched a lot of their opponent’s games, including on videos. “We had group discussions to mentally prepare ourselves,” says Keevan, who played the top strikers’ position during that Olympics. His regular position has always been as a central midfielder. “This was because there was a specific strategy we had to follow,” he explains.
Though the team ended up in 11th position, it was still an impressive achievement.
“I remember the time when we were down 2-0 against Great Britain. We rallied through and managed to secure a draw, 2-2. I scored the second goal,” Keevan says, with a smile
His brother, Logan, who was also in the national squad, was supposed to be part of the Olympics team too but he had to pull out due to his studies.
Keevan says he wouldn’t have made it to the Olympics if it were not for the support of his family, especially his father Kali Kavandan. “My father inspires me in so many ways. I can talk to him about anything, including relationship problems,” he says.
Kali has always been “the man” in Keevan’s life. The father-of-five recalls the time when Keevan was feeling down during the Olympic qualifier in Japan.
“He called me after the team failed to perform well when playing against Spain. I guess he needed to talk to someone he was familiar with,” says Kali. “I advised him that we need to learn to accept defeat to learn about winning.”
After the talk, Keevan’s games picked up. Talking to his father really did help Keevan overcome defeat.
Father and son have a very close relationship. Kali was a hockey player for the Malacca team in his younger days. He remembers that Keevan used to follow him around when he was a state hockey player. “He would play with his friends while waiting for me. When he was a young boy, I could already see his talent in sports,” says 62-year-old Kali.
Keevan feels that his interest in hockey might have stemmed from his father. “He gave me the freedom to do what I wanted in life. But I guess, the interest (for sports) was already there in me.”
As for the current national hockey team, Keevan has faith in its ability. Although the team did not make it to the Olympic games in London, he is optimistic about the future.
“I think we have a very talented bunch of players. With a bit of luck, we should be able to make it to the Olympics again!”, says Keevan who is rooting for Datuk Lee Chong Wei to bring home the country’s first gold medal.
These days, 33-year-old Keevan plays more soccer than hockey. He has also taken a different route in his career and runs the family’s trading business together with Kali and his brothers, Logan, 31, Sunder, 31 and Mano, 29. His younger sister, Prema, is a singer.
He says sports has taught him so many values in life — values that have made him the man that he is today.